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'I'm traumatised now': Covid bereaved call for inquiry into NHS 111

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Hundreds of people believe the helpline failed their relatives. Now they are demanding their voices be heard. 

Families whose relatives died from COVID-19 in the early period of the pandemic are calling for an inquiry into the NHS 111 service, arguing that many critically ill people were given inadequate advice and told to stay at home.

The COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group says approximately a fifth of its 1,800 members – more than 350 people – believe the 111 service failed to recognise how seriously ill their relatives were and direct them to appropriate care.

“We believe that in some cases it is likely these issues directly contributed to loved ones dying, due to causing a delay in receiving treatment, or a total lack of treatment leading to them passing away at home,” said the group’s co-founder Jo Goodman, whose father, Stuart Goodman, died on 2 April aged 72.

Many families have said they had trouble even getting through to the 111 phone line, the designated first step, alongside 111 online, for people concerned they may have COVID-19.

The service recorded a huge rise in calls to almost 3m in March, and official NHS figures show that 38.7% were abandoned after callers waited longer than 30 seconds for a response. Some families who did get through have said the call handlers worked through fixed scripts and asked for yes or no answers, which led to their relatives being told they were not in need of medical care.

“Despite having very severe symptoms including skin discolouration, fainting, total lack of energy, inability to eat and breathlessness, as well as other family members explaining the level of distress they were in, this was not considered sufficient to be admitted to hospital or have an ambulance sent out,” Goodman said.

Some families also say their relatives’ health risk factors, such as having diabetes, were not taken into account, and that not all the 111 questions were appropriate for black, Asian and minority ethnic people, including a question to check for breathlessness that asked if their lips had turned blue.

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Source: The Guardian, 21 September 2020

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